Thursday, March 14, 2013



In Sam Raimi's take on an Oz prequel/origins story, James Franco plays Oscar Zoroaster [lots of other names] Diggs, a small-time magician, con-man, and inveterate womanizer who goes by the stage name of Oz. He escapes in a balloon after seducing the carnival strongman's girlfriend in one of his string of hump-em-and-dump-em schemes. The balloon is sucked into a twister, which lands him in the colorful land of Oz, where he is greeted by Theodora, the smoking hot witch of my southern regions (if you know what I mean) played by Mila Kunis in form-fitting leather pants.

The movie is full of allusions to THE WIZARD OF OZ, but due to rights issues between Warner Bros. and Disney, everything has to be off just a little bit (so it's officially based on L. Frank Baum's public-domain novels, and not the 1939 film classic.) So the cowardly lion looks like a lion (and doesn't speak), not Bert Lahr in a lion suit. But why even have a cowardly lion cameo if he's not going to do anything in the movie? Glinda the good witch is there, and travels by bubble, but it's just different enough. Eventually the Wicked Witch shows up, but with just enough of a different green skin hue (and missing the chin wart) that it doesn't infringe. The Emerald City looks damn familiar, but again is different enough. And of course the ruby slippers (an invention of the movie, the book had silver slippers) are nowhere to be seen. But we do get a black and white opening and characters from Kansas showing up as different characters in Oz. I kind of wish WB had made the movie instead so they could have used the more familiar elements.

We do get a new cast of characters, and by far the best one is the China Girl (made out of china, not from China) played by Joey King. She's the clearest reminder that all the girls he's mistreating are fragile creatures, and she opens his heart (she also plays a crippled girl in Kansas who believes in Oz and asks him to fix her legs and make her walk). Zach Braff as the assistant in Kansas becomes a helpful winged monkey in Oz (not the evil ones, who are winged baboons, just a helpful winged monkey butler) and he plays it exactly like Zach Braff. Tony Cox rehashes his acerbic midget bit from THE HEBREW HAMMER as Knuck, the herald of the Emerald City. And Bill Cobbs appears as the Master Tinker, who ends up being one of Oz's most important allies (BTW, forget Morgan Freeman, going back to THE HUDSUCKER PROXY Bill Cobbs has been my favorite magic negro).

Then about halfway through, I realized the movie wasn't really a rehash/prequel/reimagining of Oz, it was a remake of ARMY OF DARKNESS. Quick, can you name the Sam Raimi movie where a prophesied hero falls from the sky, turns out to be more of a womanizing blowhard than the hero they were expecting, but after [spoiler alert] his initial love interest is turned ugly by evil he leads a successful battle for the side of good using a mix of ingenuity and modern technology that the locals think is magic? I started expecting Oz to drop a "Groovy" or "Gimme some sugar, baby." I expected the Wicked Witch to cackle "I'll swallow your soul!" Even the "You found me beautiful once..."/"Honey, you got reeeal ugly!" exchange would have worked perfectly. The winged baboons look a heck of a lot like the winged Deadites, and the second Wicked Witch [spoiler again, sorry!] looks a heck of a lot like the demon woman.

Of course, as cheesy as it is I really like ARMY OF DARKNESS, so the parallels aren't necessarily a bad thing. I'm just left wondering about Sam Raimi. If he doesn't know how obviously he's treading the same ground, well, then he's an accomplished craftsman who has run out of ideas. But just imagine this: Sam Raimi  sitting in a room bullshitting with his closest friends and advisers (I assume Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell would be there. Maybe Bob Tapert is there, too.) The start joking about the craziest movie he could do. And he says..."I want to remake ARMY OF DARKNESS.... And then I want someone to sue because...[thinking to himself, 'what's the craziest reason to sue an ARMY OF DARKNESS remake?'] it infringes on THE WIZARD OF OZ! .... And I want Disney to pay for it!" [everyone busts up in an outpouring of semi-drunk laughter]. If that's anything close to the actual genesis for the movie, then to paraphrase Oz himself, this was his greatest trick yet.

Total Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,136

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